Soft squash, hard market

02/18/2013 05:03:00 PM
Mike Hornick

squashFile photoSupplies and pricing on squash out of Mexico could be a moving target into March, as grower-shippers’ opinions vary on the speed of recovery from January freezes.

What’s beyond doubt is that prices rose sharply enough afterward to repel some buyers.

“There is a lot less zucchini, yellow and gray squash selling f.o.b. available to the market,” Jim Cathey, general manager and sales manager at Nogales, Ariz.-based Del Campo Supreme, said Feb. 1.

“But when squash growers got the same ideas the boys in Yuma had (in the lettuce shortage) and jumped their prices up to $25 or $30, they found out people really don’t need squash that badly. The market is in a major adjusting period.”

Zucchini, for example, was $28 on Feb. 4 on 4/7 bushel cartons of small zucchini crossing at Nogales, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A year ago it was $15.50. Butternut squash on Feb. 13 was between $25 and $27 for bushel cartons.

“The squash market has been just through the roof,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. “It’s a shorter crop from planting to harvest, so a lot of ... the vines (planted) got burned up in the Sonora freeze.”

An Al Harrison Co. grower in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, lost the equivalent of 70 acres of zucchini and yellow squash during three cold nights in the second week of January, said Brent Harrison, president of the Nogales-based company.

“I feel so bad for this grower because the market went to $28 and he could have made half a million dollars,” Harrison said. “Mother Nature can be cruel.”

The shortfall in some varieties reflects acreage reduction in Mexico as well as weather damage, Cathey said.

Some acorn, butternut and spaghetti squash production lined up for February and March was affected.

“The hardshell market could get a little stronger,” Harrison said. “Supply and demand should raise prices.”

L&M Cos. Inc. has its only Mexican squash deal in Los Mochis, Sinaloa.

That region also suffered, said Greg Cardamone, general manager of vegetables.

“If it didn’t actually freeze, it certainly knocked the plants back a couple weeks,” Cardamone said.

“It’s been so warm in Florida that a lot of producers there have been able to go longer than expected, so that’s helped to ease the pain. But obviously there’s not a tremendous amount of squash production coming out of Florida.


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